MGM, 1963, B&W, 112 mins.- Warner Bros. DVD

Richard Johnson: "Scandal, murder, insanity, suicide- the history of Hill House was ideal. It had everything I wanted."

Psychic investigator Johnson's enthusiasm gets the better of him when he invites some sympathetic souls to a secluded spot in New England to poke around the infamous Hill House, a Bad Place if ever there was one. So bad, in fact, that only two invitees actually show up- cosmopolitan Lesbian psychic Claire Bloom and unhappy, repressed poltergeist experiencer Julie Harris. As the group- joined by an irreverent representative of the house's owners, Russ Tamblyn- settles into the gloomy Gothic locale, strange events start to pile up like deadwood. It soon becomes clear that Harris is the key factor in the supernatural equation, as her own experiences mirror the house's sad history, and her neurotic drive to feel wanted may have met its match- in Hill House itself.

Cold spots, phantom messages, pounding on the walls, ghostly hands in the dark- they're all here, but veteran director Robert Wise helms the tale with restraint, letting the viewer's imagination fill in the gaps. This intelligent approach is abetted by the adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel by screenwriter Nelson Gidding, and the sterling efforts of all concerned gives the picture the timeless quality of a classic. Indeed, as haunted house flicks go, this one is as good as it gets. Extras include commentary by the cast, director and screenwriter, and still galleries.


AIP, 1963 & 1964, Color, 86 & 83 mins.- MGM DVD

Boris Karloff: "Such perfection of treachery fills me with admiration."

High praise indeed coming from old horror pro Karloff, the evil sorcerer antagonist of "The Raven," who nevertheless turns the subject of his compliment-
lesser magician Peter Lorre- into the titular bird. When Lorre seeks help from squeamish but powerful wizard Vincent Price, the wheels are set in motion for a supernatural clash between good and evil. All three actors are in fine form in this horror comedy, with Karloff and Price hamming it up and Lorre ad-libbing like crazy. Adding to the character mix are Price's conniving ex-wife, Hazel Court, his innocent daughter, Olive Sturgess, and Lorre's son, Jack Nicholson (who sports one of the silliest outfits of his career). The road to the final duel takes several twists and turns, but eventually Karloff and Price meet in delightfully silly magical combat. This surprisingly good-looking film shows its age in spots but makes for a fun little Halloween treat.

The other half of this "Double Feature" disc is "The Comedy Of Terrors," an inferior effort with Price and Lorre drumming up business for their flagging funeral parlor via the expedient of murder. When they turn their evil attentions to their kooky- and particularly hard to kill- landlord Basil Rathbone, a good deal of labored wackiness ensues. This picture has some good moments but is disappointing overall, and might best be appreciated by the younger set. Extras for the films include interviews with "Raven" producer/director Roger Corman and noted genre scribe Richard Matheson, who penned both pictures.


Image Ten, 1968, B&W, 96 mins.- Elite Millennium Ed. DVD

Duane Jones: "Don't you know what's going on out there? This is no Sunday
school picnic!"

No, not quite- but if you're one of the recently deceased, you will have a nasty case of the munchies, courtesy of the mysterious radiation brought back by a returning space probe (way to go, NASA). After an outing to a rural graveyard turns nasty with the appearance of the malevolent (un)dead, a thoroughly freaked-out Judith O'Dea takes refuge in an isolated house. Fortunately for her, she is soon joined by young drifter Duane Johnson, a rare (for the time) black hero who barricades the house against the hungry re-animated types roving the countryside. Others join the group, and this microcosm of humanity reacts in various ways as broadcast news reports reveal the full horror of the situation. Conflicts erupt, escape plans go awry, and before the night is over, the group will face their own personal Alamo.

Director/co-writer George A. Romero's horror classic hit audiences like a sledgehammer back when it was first released, and its unique approach spawned a wave of imitators that continue to this day. The film is an example of how limited resources can be transcended with the right combination of talent and guts- the latter being a literal element in this case- and its "You are there" immediacy really sells the story. When the undead try- with varying degrees of success- to chow down on the living, the film retains a disturbingly nasty that climaxes in a downright nihilistic ending. Obviously, this sort of thing isn't for everybody, but for zombie fans this edition is the best version available, with a host of juicy extras including audio commentaries, stills, and interviews.


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© Melt Magazine 2003